Lehigh Valley newspaper, The Morning Call risks downsizing if bought by ‘destroyer of newspapers’

Reporters for The Morning Call newspaper urge the community to join their efforts to keep the paper safe from hedge fund ownership.

The Morning Call is currently owned by Tribune Publishing and In November 2019, New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital bought 32 percent of Tribune shares.

According to a schedule presented during the Save Our Papers Summit webinar hosted by Tribune Publishing newspapers on April 7th, The Morning Call has lost 22 percent of its workforce since that purchase.

In February of that year, the Tribune The Board of Directors announced its approval of the Alden acquisition until two-thirds of non-Alden shareholders approve.

Kayla Dwyer, secretary of the Morning Call Guild, said while there is no way of predicting with certainty what Alden’s property would look like, Alden’s reputation, including his nickname as a “destroyer of the newspapers,” has made many reporters fear full coverage of fund holdings might look for her paper.

“The business model of hedge funds like Alden Global Capital is to take as many assets off news organizations as possible while staying afloat,” she said.

The Morning Call no longer employs sports, business, political, or state news editors, as mentioned in the Save Our Papers Summit webinar. Other ramifications of Alden’s co-ownership include the loss of a dedicated reporter for Easton, who is limited to one reporter All local arts and entertainment events, just two reporters dealing with crime and courts and no reporter dealing with college or school districts in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

Dwyer said she realizes this loss of coverage could have a negative impact on the community.

“Not only am I concerned about the health of paper, I am also concerned about what the health of paper means to our community,” she said.

Keith Groller, who has been a full-time reporter for The Morning Call since September 1982, said he feared the length of his service would leave him vulnerable to cuts in hedge fund ownership.

Molly Bilinski, a self-described “baby guild member” who joined The Morning Call in January 2021, said she was also nervous about owning hedge funds.

“I think we’ve all seen what Alden is capable of,” said Bilinski. “They have a pretty clear track record of what happens to papers that are theirs.”

According to NewsMatters, a Newsguild project for primary digital media workers, Alden uses a “slash-and-burn” strategy on the newspapers he buys, leaving reporters without jobs and citizens without local newspapers.

After 100 years of operations on Sixth Street in Allentown, Alden closed The Morning Call doors in August 2020, citing the pandemic and instructing journalists to work from home indefinitely.

Bilinski said the guild is focusing on returning the newspaper to the community and bringing the Lehigh Valley back to local journalism.

“I cannot underestimate the importance of a community newspaper in any way,” said Bilinski.

She said it was refreshing and invigorating to hear from community members who want to help.

Dwyer said it is necessary to involve the citizens of the Lehigh Valley in this effort.

“We can’t just rely on rich people to save local newspapers,” she said. “We need the community behind us.”

Groller said despite the downsizing in recent years, The Morning Call’s location of problems is a necessary service that local citizens cannot get elsewhere.

“We’re not what we used to be, but we’re still damn good,” said Groller. “I hope someone will see that.”

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